Glorify God, Live Together, Make Disciples

What is a Faithful Church? (part 1)

Title: What is a Faithful Church?
Text: Selected Scriptures
Big Idea: A church’s faithfulness is determined by her obedience to the Word of God.

Outline: 6 marks of a faithful church
(1) They receive their identity.
(2) They have qualified leadership.
(3) They preach the word of God.
(4) They prioritize godliness.
(5) They are fervent in prayer.
(6) They are stewards of the gospel.

Having been in ministry now for nearly 15 years I have had the opportunity to meet many people who are looking for a church. There is an important question that all must consider; whether they are moving to the city, newly investigating Christianity, coming off the sidelines to be active in church or moving from another church.

The question is: what are your criteria for evaluating a church?

We live in a culture that is awash in consumerism. We are taught to think in terms of what we want and need—what suits us. Much of our lives are personalized. I have stood in line at a Starbucks and heard someone order their own personalized drink, while scanning Facebook on their phone—browsing and interacting with their own personally picked friends and organizations, while listening to their own personally picked playlist on Pandora and wearing their own personally designed running shoes.

It is not surprising then that in a culture dominated by and geared toward the consumer that people evaluate churches based upon what their own personal preferences. But what if this was all wrong? What if the church is that blessed anomaly in our society that is not about us?

This morning I want to provide a different framework. Instead of asking, “What are you looking for in a church”—let’s ask, “What is God looking for in a church?” In a word: it is faithfulness.

“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:1–2, ESV)

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” (Matthew 25:21, ESV)

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10, ESV)

A church’s faithfulness is determined by her obedience to the Word of God.

What I want to do is give you 5 marks of a faithful church. Now I will say that our friend, Mark Dever, wrote a wonderfully helpful little book entitled 9 Marks of a Faithful Church, this book has served us well as a church. My scope this morning is to do something a little different and a bit more abbreviate than Dever.

I want to serve 3 groups of people at Emmaus: 1) those who are new and want to know what the Bible says a church should be about 2) Those who have been here awhile, I want to remind you of what we are trying to be, 3) Those whom the Lord may call to another area someday (and there are many with the military)—I want to serve you by providing a framework and reference for biblical ministry.

Let me also give a brief disclaimer: the assumption is that I am talking about a category of Churches. I am talking about Christian churches, so there is no reference to cults or other world religions. I am talking about evangelical churches so I am not referencing mainline American Protestantism (what has been traditionally called protestant liberalism) or Roman Catholicism. I am talking about within the context of evangelicalism. That is, churches that believe in the Trinity, the substitutionary, atoning work of Jesus Christ for their sins, the inerrancy, inspiration, and authority of the Bible.

Outline: 6 marks of a faithful church

1) They Receive their Identity

We live in a very strange time in our history. Today people define themselves by what they do and feel. Personal preferences become the arbitrator of what is or is not true. Much of the debate surrounding the issues of human sexuality and same-sex marriage stems from the issue of the one who sets the rules.

And when you get many people who agree on these common rules you have a culture of legislators, arbitrators of what is true. A man may say that he is actually a woman and a woman a man.

To illustrate the confusion, Facebook now offers the field “custom” to its users in addition to the traditional category of “male” and “female.”

As people, we do not have a right to define or dictate things that we do not have authority over. We did not create ourselves. We do not dictate our gender. This is the Creator’s privilege and pleasure, not our own.

This also holds true for the church. The church is not ours to customize. We are not ecclesiastical entrepreneurs. The church is God’s. And, we are his. In fact, we have no more right to alter, redefine, or change the church’s identity than we do our own gender. The church is the household of God.

“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14–15Open in Logos Bible Software (if available))

If a church has any ambition of being a faithful church they must get this down. The church is God’s household, God’s people. He owns her, therefore, he defines her.

Today churches are doing all sorts of things. Some are good things and some are not good things. The church’s job however, is to preach, teach, and apply the Bible. That’s it. This is the irreducible complexity of ministry. In one sense you could say that you never have to do more than this–there are many different expressions of this, but never less than this. Everything we do flows out of preaching, teaching, and applying the Bible.

Many times, out of a desire to love their neighbor, churches can get involved in all types of ministries. Many of these things are good things. They are things that Christians are free to do and should be encouraged to do however they are not the mission of the church. What ends up happening to the church is disastrous. They get involved in things that are good but not precisely what they are called to do. They leave off the ministry of the word in view of other “good” things. And as a result, churches become little more than non-profits with a spiritual tone.

Paul said it clearly, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14–15, ESVOpen in Logos Bible Software (if available))

We are to take this to mean that everything he writes is what we are supposed to be doing. Paul was concerned for the church and endeavored to instruct young Timothy how the church was to function. Thankfully the pastoral letters are overwhelmingly simple and straight forward.

Similarly, in the Book of Revelation, in chapters 2-3 John walks us through some of Christ’s correspondence with various churches. Some are commended and others are rebuked. There is a repeated them throughout, that catches your attention:

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches… (Revelation 2:11, ESVOpen in Logos Bible Software (if available))

All seven churches get this exhortation. What does this mean? It means that God is speaking to his church. What does he emphasis? Hearing the Word of God and being faithful to it. This is what he means when he said, “Hear what the Spirit says to the churches…” The church is to hear God speaking to her. How does he speak to her? He reproves, corrects, and trains in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).

And what is the goal? You see in verse 10 of chapter 2, “be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Each church is called to hear the word of God and to be obedient to do what it says. In other words, every church is called to be faithful. A church’s faithfulness is characterized by her obedience to the Word of God. Churches receive their identity they do not create it. There is no option for “customizing” church ministry to our own desire.

In order for Emmaus to be a faithful church we need to have this straight.

2) They have Qualified Leadership

In 1 Timothy chapter 3, we read of the leadership structure within the church (elders and deacons). We see something similar in Titus 1. Paul gives qualifiactions for the elders within the church. Again, we did not write these we merely hear and endeavor to obey what the Spirit says to the churches.

Pastors must be men. This is not to say that men are any better than women. Instead it means that women and men have unique functions within the church. In chapter 2:12 of 1 Timothy we read that a woman is not permitted to teach or exercise authority over a man. This would obviously include pastoral ministry.

Pastors must desire the ministry. They have must want to do ministry.

Pastors must be morally qualified. They must be above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2).

Pastors must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). They must be able to communicate the truth of the Word of God to the flock. They are to teach sound doctrine and refute those who contradict. They must be able to handle the Word of God.

Why must a church have qualified leadership? This is biblical; it is God’s way of doing this. It is also practical; we want the church to be blessed by God. If we are getting this wrong then we asking for trouble. It is also spiritual; if the pastor is not qualified then you will be taught error (either blatantly wrong or not enough).

Pastors that get this know that they are weak. Paul said, “who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16) when speaking about ministry. We know we can’t do anything on our own. We know it is an impossible calling from a human perspective. God works in spite of us. Why does God do this? So that he may get the glory. (1 Cor. 1:28–30)

A church will only go as far as her leaders take her. If they are unqualified, stagnant, lazy, ungodly, or derelict in their duties; then you should expect to see the church having problems. A faithful church has qualified leaders.

3) They Preach the Word of God.

The Bible uses the shepherd metaphor to describe the ministry of a pastor. The pastor is a shepherd and the pastor shepherds. In other words, the shepherd shepherds.

Well, how does he do that? The pastor shepherds by leading, feeding, and protecting the flock.

Where do we get this from? There are many places in the Bible, but a good place to see this is in John chapter 21.

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”” (John 21:15, ESV)

Jesus tells Peter to feed his lambs. He says the same thing in verse 17. The word has to do with caring for or looking after the flock. In the Middle Eastern agrarian culture the shepherd would lead his flock to food and the still waters of refreshment. He ensured that they were properly fed.

Jesus goes on in verse 16, “He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”” (John 21:16, ESV)

The word translated tend means shepherd. It is to take care of, protect, guard, and nourish. There are threats on the outside from wolves and threats on the inside because of bad decisions by the sheep. In both cases the shepherd is to be actively engaged in the thoughtful care of the sheep.

According to Jesus, this demonstrates the pastors love for Jesus.

Let’s not miss this point: a pastor who does not feed and shepherd the church is doing a bad job loving Jesus. (Jn 21:15–17; 1 Pet. 5:1–4)

How? How then does the pastor lead, feed, and protect the sheep? It is through the ministry of the Word of God.

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9, ESV)

“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” (Titus 2:15, ESV)

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.” (1 Timothy 4:13–14, ESV)

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,”” (1 Timothy 6:20, ESV)

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV)

“preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2, ESV)

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1–5, ESV)

I am not so much here talking about the preacher’s style or mannerisms but the content of his sermon. Does he give you the Word of God? Does he reprove you? Rebuke you? Exhort you? Is this done patiently? Is it done doctrinally?

An interesting aspect of this is the fact that Paul instructs him to do what people don’t necessarily want. Notice verses 3 & 4: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths

Some people don’t want doctrine. They don’t want teaching like this. So what do they do? They band together and pursue pastors that will give them what they want. They have itching ears, as Paul says. So rather than wanting their heart work done they want their ears tickled. They would rather have a pastor knit them a pillow in the pulpit for them to gently rest upon rather than to preach the truth of God’s authoritative word.

How can you tell how much a pastor loves Christ & his people? By his preaching. It is doctrinal preaching that feeds & protects the sheep.

A pastor cannot say he’s preaching faithfully if he’s not preaching doctrinally (2Tim4:2). What God has joined together let no man separate.

—part 2 will be next week…